Thursday, May 2, 2013

Art Class

From the mind of a 4th-grader, May 2, 2013.
Another last-minute invite today: My favorite K-4 needed a teacher.

An art teacher.

I was worried, because while I'm more of a consumer/patron of art than perhaps the average person, I'm not an expert.

And I can't draw a stick figure.

But they needed someone, so I went.

The regular teacher left a substitute plan, and it had variations on what one student told me always happens when there is a substitute in art: "We draw."

OK, Miss Smarty Pants, we're going to draw.


I had a section of fourth and first graders, and two sections each of second and third graders throughout the day.

The good news is that while I'm no expert, I've at least had enough time and observation to learn a little better how to tame the wild ones, or at least manage them. And I'm feeling more comfortable in providing a good atmosphere for the ones who are predisposed to engage.

I had a plan. It seems to me that a good approach is to set the tone right away, so I used today to be a little more bold and leader-y. I think it worked.

The classes were all at least 45 minutes; the fourth graders got a full hour. I started by asking them to "define" art. I got a lot of good feedback. I asked them about other forms, such as performance, music, photography. Some of the kids gave the answer I was really looking for: Art is about expression.

As such, there is no "wrong" art. As long as it comes from the motivation of personal expression, they were golden.

So in that regard, I asked them to draw a "face." I showed them Picasso's "Weeping Woman," a self-portrait by Van Gogh, Munch's "The Scream." Three faces; three very different takes.

I was asked "can I draw a robot/animal/monster" and so forth. Yes. YES! Draw ANYTHING that YOU say is a "face" and you are right.

It took some of them a little work to embrace the idea of that little structure. I had to repeatedly reinforce the idea that it was impossible to fail so long as they put forth an effort.

A couple of the kids totally "got it." One girl began bringing me multiple drawings, each a little more "out there" than the others, culminating in a drawing with different-color lines undulating across the page.


Some of the art, like the example above, was in my mind extraordinary. There's real talent in these developing minds. I hope that they stick with it, and for the dozen or so students who produced truly thoughtful work, I did everything I could to encourage them to continue to pursue their vision.

With 10-15 minutes left in the class, or when a few artists finished quickly, I staged a "gallery showing" where I brought the artist up, introduced them, held their work high and asked them to explain their work. Surprisingly, they were enthusiastic and not as shy as I feared they might be.

As usual, encouragement brings out the best in a child.


My day's highlight: One student told me she "couldn't draw." I sat at the table next to her as two other students scribbled away. In her anxiety she tapped her marker nervously a few times, dotting the empty expanse of paper.

"Have you ever heard of pointillism?"

She had not. I quickly tapped in Seurat's name on Google, calling up a self-portrait and some other works of his to show her about pointillism. I then drew a horrific, simplistic example on a worksheet.

Fifteen minutes later she raised her hand to participate in the gallery show. She had made a girl with long hair in a pointillist style.

I need the money, but real talk: this vivid example of opening a child's mind to something new was worth every penny. It melted me; when I recapped this story to M later in the day, I became very emotional. Whether this girl ever becomes an artist or not -- today, she learned something new. And I was the facilitator of that.


My art teacher at that age was a sweet, tiny white-haired old lady named Mrs. Dollahite. Her classroom was noticeably different... when you walked in, the high walls were filled with paint, crayons, charcoal, clay... imagine the stereotype of a 60s-era elementary school art classroom. That was Mrs. Dollahite's room.

My love of art developed as a concentration on the written or sung word; much later in life did I come to appreciate those who can produce a visual form on canvas or via sculpture. Art is a reflection of humanity, and meant to enrich us and add depth and conscience to our lives.

To see those children explore was a thrill.

Another good day.

No comments:

Post a Comment